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Bloom where you’re planted with local activewear Yumi

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With designs inspired by haute couture, local activewear brand Yumi Active promises to help everyday women glow with strength, confidence and beauty. Their first signature collection – Blooms of the East – sought to achieve exactly this: activewear handcrafted with quality materials, flattering cut and intricate designs, featuring exquisite Asian flowers like Vanda Miss Joaquim, Sakura and Orient Plum.

Feeling like a powerhouse before you start your HIIT or yoga practice can really affect your performance – looking and feeling strong matter more than you think! Made from a four-way stretch fabric with moisture-wicking properties to give you maximum freedom in your movements while keeping cool, Yumi Active’s activewear is something to rely on whether it’s full-blown workouts or yoga flows.

We also love that Yumi represents the feminine strength and quiet elegance of the Asian woman, instead of more typical Western counterparts. The woman behind the brand is Singaporean Diana Chang, who quit her comfortable corporate job to make the brand she envisioned come to life.

“I wanted to create a brand rich in Asian heritage, specifically Singapore,” Diana explained. “It would be a testament to the world-class quality Singapore is known for and also a symbol of the unique diversity and richness of our culture.”

Diana also candidly shared that she created Yumi out of an emotional labour of love – her experience with yoga spurred her on and helped her during a dark time when she struggled with repeated failed fertility treatments.

Today, as Yumi successfully launched its second signature collection Heritage of the East, featuring bold and energetic prints like Peranakan tiles and Indian Mehndi (Henna) Art, Diana looks back and admits honestly that her journey was not an easy one. However, it was the same perseverance and zest for life that helped her overcome life’s challenges and the hurdles she faced with Yumi Active – get close up with Diana in this exclusive feature and read all about it!

1. What’s your story?

I spent about 13 years in the financial services and early childhood education sector holding senior positions responsible for strategic planning, market and competitive analysis, branding and marketing, change management.

In my early career, I sought positions which allowed me to build organisations into market champions recognised for shaping the development of their industry. I relish the joy of solving challenging business problems and setting new benchmarks. Transformation projects excite me, and I have mostly been working alongside CEOs and ‘C’ suite level management to plan and drive organisation wide transformation for a large part of my early career before founding Yumi Active.

I have a degree in Accountancy from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), but was never CPA-certified as I was clear as day right from the start that route was not for me. I am also an MBA-holder in Strategy and Organisation from National University of Singapore (NUS).

I love hiking, the great outdoors, yoga, travelling, food, culinary art and Korean dramas (huge fan – I took up Korean language up to advanced level with a private tutor one to one because of this).

2. Why did you start Yumi Active? 

I started Yumi Active due to a combination of my long-standing interest in entrepreneurship since graduation in 2002 (yes, it has been that long!), my desire to create a brand rich in Asian heritage and also my love for yoga, which helped me during a time when I was struggling with repeated, failed fertility treatments.

During that time, I personally experienced how staying active makes me a happier, more balanced and energetic person. It helped me fill a void in that period of my life. I wanted to encourage fellow women to embrace and enjoy the benefits of a positive, active lifestyle as well.

I also felt a passion to create an iconic Singaporean brand that is both, a testament to the world-class quality that Singapore is known for and a symbol of the uniqueness, diversity and richness of Asian culture and heritage we embrace.

3. How did you come to start Yumi Active?

In the early years of my career, I took the corporate route as I had to fulfil my scholarship bond. In 2013, I was first introduced to yoga for its reputed benefits to improve blood circulation and fell in love with it. I was practising yoga and working out very regularly.

That brought me to my first interaction with the Lululemon brand and opened my mind to possibilities of blending fashion design with technical fabrics. I remembered the first time I got my yoga gears, I was excited to get started on my yoga session in it. The design was pretty, colour selection was what I wanted and with thoughtful details crafted into it. It didn’t felt like the Nike and Adidas I had. I always felt they were men’s design made in women’s fitting – they might have evolved with times now but for more than a decade prior, they have disappointed me as a women consumer! My new activewear from Lululemon made me feel good about myself and I almost could not wait to go for my next yoga session in it.

Then, 2015 was the turning point for me. I quit my corporate job and relocated to Jakarta, Indonesia to join my husband who got a job offer to be based there. That gave me a lot of time to pause and reflect on what I wanted to do. I considered getting another job with a MNC/consultancy firm with Jakarta office but I didn’t do it eventually because I wasn’t sure what was the next step for both me and my husband (how long was he going to stay there). Climbing the corporate ladder did not excite me much either. I began to consider starting my own business as a serious option, and not just an interest anymore.

At that time, a local brand offered reasonably priced yoga wear with designs very similar to Lululemon. My initial plan was to curate a few good brands and distribute it in Jakarta. Unfortunately that didn’t work out too well; from import restrictions, disadvantageous wholesale agreement terms, quality issues which I had no control over, to navigating around in a foreign marketplace – on top of these, I knew I would return to Singapore one day and building a brand in Jakarta didn’t make much long term business sense.

After a few months, I began to explore the possibility of developing my own activewear brand. While my husband was at work, I spent most of my time café hopping in Jakarta researching on global activewear market, trends, and dynamics. It was a growing space for sure but I was also aware that competition is strong: almost any fashion brand (from luxury to streetwear) was either starting or already had an activewear collection.

I knew my brand had to have a distinctive identity to be relevant, bringing along with it an element of lifestyle it hopes to connect with. Many existing brands had Western lifestyle context tied to it – the faces, scenes, fit, props, designs, colours – all had strong Western influence. In contrast, I wanted my brand to carry a strong Eastern flavour. My goal was to introduce the richness of the Asian way of life into the brand, to connect intimately with Asian women and excite women worldwide to experience a touch of Asia through our activewear.

4. How was the journey to make your dream a reality?

The journey was not easy and took much longer than I had hoped and planned. I registered Yumi Active in Sep 2016 but did not launch the brand till late 2018. The learning curve into this space was an extremely steep one for me and there were multiple setbacks in the process, such as fitting issues, quality of fabric used, issues with the technical properties of the fabric, etc. I started out sending in my design to OEM factories but the samples were disappointing. I must have tried more than a dozen factories at one go, due to my impatient nature. I then decided to take a bolder move and went directly to fabric mills to discuss my fabric requirements and customised my own technical fabrics as I felt that quality activewear goes beyond workmanship of the fabric.

5. What was the start-up capital like?

This was much more capital intensive than I thought as I had to invest upfront in the fabrics I was trying to create without any volume yet. It was largely funded by my husband with a good friend wanting to show her support by chipping in as a minor shareholder.

6. What is one challenge no one knows about when you first launched your business?

I was completely burned out. I was largely a one man show apart from freelancers I used from time to time. Yumi is literally my blood and sweat as I remembered many occasions where I cut, bled and bruise myself packing, moving and carrying stocks up our shophouse studio on level 2 with no lift access and thereafter up the ladder to stack the cartons up in the storeroom.

From retail operations, product development, sourcing, handling of customer enquiries, managing our website, social media accounts, business planning, business development, marketing, media communications, bookkeeping to cleaning up our studio, I did almost everything myself. Similar to all startups, cashflow was tight and I couldn’t afford to bring anyone in. My bank account was empty most of the time, I had maxed out all my insurance policy loan, I see more receipts in my wallet than dollar notes most of the time.

7. Describe what Yumi Active stands for. What kind of women buy Yumi Active?

Yumi (ゆみ ; 裕美) is a Japanese inspired name and it means abundant beauty. It reflects my image of a resilient, elegant and confident woman overflowing with beauty when she has an active zest for life.

When I was conceptualising the brand in 2016, I wrote a muse of what a woman with abundant beauty feels like. I envisioned a woman who moves with a glow, climbing through life’s hurdles while keeping her wandering heart true. As she beats through challenge after challenge, she shines even brighter with quiet strength and beauty. My goal was to invite all women to uncover this extraordinary beauty through Yumi Active, if they have not yet experienced it.

Yumi Active is also the result of my personal interest in exploring how to make activewear better and more exciting. I am obsessed with ‘Top quality’ as the brand seeks to inspire and thrill the discerning and knowledgeable modern woman for whom aesthetics, style and comfort are paramount.

8. Outline your typical work day at Yumi Active.

I don’t have a ‘typical’ workday yet since I am largely a one man show until recently, but I currently prioritise my work as follows: 1) sale and distribution matters – full fill orders and restocking at stockists 2) admin 3) product development and marketing and 4) planning.

When you are a one man show, the operations usually eat up your bandwidth, my preferred priority would have been the reverse starting from planning. This will change soon as I start to expand my team and build up capacity for growth.

9. Oftentimes being an entrepreneur requires mental fortitude to forge a new path and face uncertainties. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

My greatest fear is running out of cashflow for my business.

After starting Yumi, I find myself never being able to buffer enough cash for adverse situations, especially when they all hit you all at once. From delayed production, numerous samplings without a workable product, lost fabric, defective stocks, to late payments – it can all feel overwhelming – almost like a bottomless pit at times. Prayer, workouts and speaking to supportive friends help.

10. What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

Compliments from customers, happy and excited customer faces. This never fail to perk me up and has been one key pillar of support to keep me motivated, wanting to do more, do better. 

11. What is one health hack or wellness tip you personally subscribe to?

A good sleep. Never underestimate the power of good, uninterrupted sleep to recharge and rejuvenate you physically, emotionally, and mentally. Whenever I am lacking sleep, I tend to be more irritable, my mind cluttered, I get anxious more easily, my skin lacklustre, and my digestive system breaks down. It’s amazing how a good sleep reverses all these when I wake up.

12. What is one advice you would give to budding local women entrepreneurs today?

Find a ‘safe’ support circle/network that allows you to be vulnerable, to share your struggles and challenges without being judged. Speak to people who can understand or have been through similar circumstances. Sometimes the entrepreneurship journey can be lonely, as most people don’t understand what it means and what you do. It’s harder when people you love don’t understand and sometimes disappoint you with responses that make you feel even worse during tough situations. There are honestly times when I have plenty of self-doubt because I hold myself accountable for all my business outcomes, especially the bad ones.

Therefore, I cannot over emphasize the importance of getting the right support – turn to people who have been through the journey for a listening ear. Fellow entrepreneurs are likely to direct you to some right doors which you have been hitting wrong all the while.

Yumi Active promo code for After Clinic Hours readers

From now till Aug 31, 2020, use promo code afterclinic10 for 10% off regular-priced items and free shipping (no min spend!) on all your orders at yumiactive.com. Not valid for sale items.

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